Labour, not the Tories, would now suffer under AV

A new poll shows that the party would win 13 fewer seats under the Alternative Vote.

The outcome of the AV referendum will be decided by Labour votes. The most recent YouGov poll, for instance, shows that while Lib Dem voters are overwhelmingly in favour of reform (79:13) and Conservative voters are overwhelmingly opposed (66:20), Labour voters are split 40:39 in favour of first-past-the-post.

With this in mind, it's worth watching to see how Labour activists respond to a new YouGov poll for Channel 4 News showing that their party would suffer the most from a switch to AV. Under FPTP, based on current voting intentions, Labour would win 355 seats, the Tories would win 255 and the Lib Dems would win just 16 – a Labour majority of 60. But under AV, Labour would win 342 (-13), the Tories would win 255 (unchanged) and the Lib Dems would win 29 (+13), resulting in a significantly reduced Labour majority of 34.

At every general election from 1997-2010, Labour would have done better under AV thanks to a high number of second-preference votes from Lib Dem supporters. But, as previous polls have shown, Lib Dem voters now split in favour of the Tories (a large number of their left-wing supporters having already defected to Labour).

The latest poll shows that 31 per cent would back the Tories, 24 per cent would back Labour and 24 per cent would back the Greens. Returning the compliment, 41 per cent of Conservatives voters would give their second preferences to the Lib Dems, followed by Ukip (27 per cent).

Unsurprisingly, Labour support for the Lib Dems has collapsed since the election, with even Ukip preferred to Nick Clegg's party.

A May 2010 poll by the British Election Study showed that more than half of Labour voters would give their second preferences to the Lib Dems, but now just 16 per cent would. The Greens (30 per cent) and Ukip (18 per cent) both attract more support than the yellow team.

As YouGov's Anthony Wells points out, the poll comes with several health warnings: "[I]t assumes both a uniform swing, and that each party's second preferences split in the same proportions across the country. It also cannot take into account what effect an election campaign fought under AV would be."

But, for those in Labour struggling to explain the merits of AV to an increasingly tribal and parochial party, this is another blow.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The chlorine chicken row is only the beginning – post-Brexit trade deals won't be easy

The real problem isn't the bureaucracies of the EU, but the fears of voters.

What's wrong with a little bit of chlorine in the chicken? That's the question splitting the cabinet as far as a US-UK trade deal goes. It also goes to the heart of Britain's post-Brexit dilemma.

As far as public health goes, both chicken slaughtered and sold the American way and chicken in the United Kingdom and the European Union are just as hygienic by the time they end up in supermarkets. But banning chlorine-washing means that the entire production chain, from farm to abattoir, has to be cleaner in the UK and the rest of the EU than in the States, where farmers know that no matter what happens to the chicken, that chlorine bath will absolve all manner of sins.

The EU's own research concedes that there is no public health difference. The problem, both in the rest of the bloc and the UK, is voter resistance: among French farmers and shoppers across the EU27. We all know how British people are about animal cruelty – not that they're so het up they won't actually eat them you understand – and any change that makes it easier to treat animals worse is going to be politically painful for the government.

In the long-term, changing our regulations to US standards also makes it harder to sell into the European Union. It's not a choice where you can have the best of both worlds but one where ultimately one market may preclude the freest use of the other.

And without wishing to offend any poultry farmers among our readership, this is a fairly small issue as far as the average British voter goes, even allowing for the UK's thing for animals. Just wait until things like “the NHS” start to be used in the same paragraph as the words “trade deal”.

One criticism that Brexiteers make of the EU is that it takes such a long time to strike trade deals. But the real problem isn't the bureaucracies of the EU – but the fears of voters. A cabinet clash over chicken is only going to be the beginning. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.